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In Ascent to GOP’s Top Ranks, “Money & Pandering” Leads Paul Ryan to Drop Opposition to Cuba Embargo

StoryAugust 29, 2012
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One issue vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan will likely avoid in his acceptance speech tonight is his changing stance on the U.S. embargo on Cuba. For years, Ryan was a vocal critic of the five-decade-old embargo, saying in 2002: “If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba. … The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy.” Ryan’s view at the time put him in stark contrast to the Republican leadership and especially influential Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Miami, of whom he said: “I just don’t agree with them and never have.” But as Ryan set his eyes on national office, his views on Cuba completely reversed. We discuss Ryan’s changing views on Cuba with Al Fox, president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy. Fox has made 83 legal visits to Cuba and has often brought U.S. politicians to visit the island. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryFeb 07, 2012U.S. Maintains Embargo of Cuba After 50 Years, Despite International Condemnation
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “God Bless the USA,” Neal Boyd, from the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, Florida. We are “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” covering the convention from the inside and out. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan will take center stage tonight at the Republican National Convention here in Tampa. According to the Associated Press, Ryan will use his prime-time speech to portray himself as a man with immigrant roots and small-town values. The speech is expected to be heavy on personality and lighter on policy.

One issue Ryan will not likely address is his changing opinion on the U.S. embargo on Cuba. For years, Ryan was a vocal critic of the five-decade-old embargo. In 2002, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, quote, “If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba. … The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy.”

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan’s view at the time put him in stark contrast with the Republican leadership and especially influential Cuban-American Republican lawmakers from Miami, here in Florida. Ryan acknowledged in a 2002 interview that some Cuban Americans supported the embargo. Ryan said, quote, “they’re very passionate about their reasons, I just don’t agree with them and never have.” As a congressmember, Paul Ryan voted at least three times in opposition to the embargo.

As recently as a 2009 interview, Ryan said, quote, “If we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?” But as Ryan set his eyes on national office, his views on Cuba have completely reversed. Here is what he said earlier this month on the West Palm Beach TV station WPTV, just hours—just days after Mitt Romney tapped him to be his running mate.

REP. PAUL RYAN: One of my best friends in Congress is Mario Diaz-Balart. I’m also good friends with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And I’ve had some great meetings with them and briefings from them over the last number of years about how important it is to make sure we stare down the Castro regime and we do nothing that helps embolden the Castro regime. And Mitt Romney is as strong as anybody on this issue, to seeing to an end to the Castro regime, and that’s why I think Cuban Americans are very supportive of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that is Paul Ryan just a few days or weeks ago.

To talk more about Paul Ryan’s views on Cuba, we’re joined by Al Fox, president of Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. He has made 83 legal visits to Cuba, has often brought U.S. politicians to visit Cuba. He has participated in nine meetings with Fidel Castro and was one of the people who actively worked to return Elián González to Cuba.

Welcome, Al Fox, to Democracy Now!

AL FOX: Welcome. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, people might be very surprised as they’re listening to and watching this right now. Explain Paul Ryan’s views.

AL FOX: You know, there could be no better example of the tragedy of the issue of United States-Cuba relations than the position that Paul Ryan now takes. It’s simply about money and pandering. That’s it. An aside, also Mitt Romney, when he was the governor of Massachusetts, supported diplomatic relations with Cuba. And the issue is that you have a handful of people in Miami that are driven by vengeance and hatred. The policy of the United States towards Cuba has absolutely nothing to do with Fidel Castro, human rights violation, political prisoners. It has everything to do with vengeance and hatred and cheap political money. And the minute that Ryan was tapped for this position to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, a lot of us said, “Well, we’ve lost Ryan.” And, to be fair, that happens about as often in the Democratic Party, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: But, to be clear, for many years, he has supported and voted for the lifting of the embargo against Cuba.

AL FOX: There’s no question about it. The record is there. He voted for lifting the travel ban of Americans, which is the so-called Flake amendment. He has supported lifting the embargo outright, and in Congress he’s had several votes. His public statements speak for themselves. And he now talks about Cuba’s terrorist activities. And there’s no one that can give one act that Cuba has ever committed an act of terrorism against the United States—or any other country, for that matter—nor do they house terrorists.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Are there any substantial differences between the Democrat and the Republican position on lifting the embargo?

AL FOX: I mean, many people think that the Democratic Party is better in—or more progressive view on U.S.-Cuba politics. That’s the perception. The reality is not. You only have to look at the head of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman from South Florida. Her position on Cuba is now exactly like Paul Ryan’s position.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Are there any people in Congress who are seriously lobbying for the embargo to be lifted?

AL FOX: Oh, there are a handful of people and very, very courageous people. Congressman Jeff Flake is a freshman conservative Republican congressman—in 2000, offered the first amendment to lift the travel ban that had any chance of passing, and it passed, in a Republican-controlled House. That amendment never passed under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership. Jeff Flake will now be the senator from Arizona. In the Florida delegation, there is one member that has started to break ranks with them, and that’s our congresswoman here in Tampa, Congresswoman Kathy Castor. She’s starting to break ranks with the whole concept. She was very supportive of getting flights and reuniting Cuban-American families in Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, as I came into the Republican convention here in Florida, I bumped into Florida State Senator Anitere Flores. She’s a Cuban-American Republican from Miami. And I asked her about Paul Ryan’s past support for lifting the Cuban embargo.

STATE SEN. ANITERE FLORES: Congressman Ryan, after—when he first got into office, you know, had some thoughts about Cuba and the embargo, because he didn’t really fully understand the issue. Once he was in Congress, he spent a lot of time talking to congressmen from South Florida and Cubans from New Jersey and from other parts of the country, and realized that once he learned exactly about the depth of deprivation and negativity that are, you know, the Castro regimes and that is that communist government, he realized that the way to bring democracy to Cuba is not by—is not by having unilateral conversations only on the side of the United States. You know, if we’re going to have any sort of free enterprise with Cuba, well, the Cuban government has to do something, too. And right now, they’re just not doing anything.

AMY GOODMAN: He was quoted as saying, “If we can have trade with China, with communist China, why not with Cuba?”

STATE SEN. ANITERE FLORES: Well, I ask people, you know, how—what trade with China has done for the Chinese people? Unfortunately, it hasn’t done anything. You know, I mean, the human rights violation that are coming out of China are just as bad, and in some cases maybe worse, than what’s happening in Cuba. We’ve got to look at the human element. We’ve got to look at democracy, and we’ve got to look at someone that’s going to be—that’s going to help human rights, that’s not going to go and jail journalists, like Alan Gross. And so, we want something better for Cuba than what we have.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Florida State Senator Anitere Flores, a Cuban-American state senator from here in Florida. She actually said Alan Gross is a journalist, but he isn’t quite. Al Fox?

AL FOX: No, he’s not. And she’s just flat wrong when she says, well, that Ryan’s position that he took in the past was because he didn’t understand the issue of Cuba and their human rights violation. What the state senator doesn’t tell you is how personal this is for so many there. Mario Diaz-Balart, the congressman, and his brother, a former congressman, they’re Fidel Castro’s nephews. They never tell you that. These congressmember’s, they are Fidel Castro’s nephews. They never tell you that. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s father was a major in the Batista army. They never tell you that. Gloria Estefan’s father—very famous singer—her father was chief of security for Fulgencio Batista. What’s the point? For them, it’s hatred and vengeance. It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s personal for them. When what we need our leaders to do is to do what is best for America. And if it’s best for America to have diplomatic relations with the Saudi royal family in Saudi Arabia and China and Bahrain and other countries in the world that have oppressive—I mean oppressive—human rights records, how can we not deal with Cuba?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, very quickly, at the convention, Ted Cruz, who is a rising star of tea party, Republican Party in Texas, running for Senate, talking about his father being brutally tortured in 1957, not saying tortured by who. And then you’ve got, right here in Florida, the whole discussion about connections to Cuba.

AL FOX: What Ted Cruz said last night, the job, really, for the media has to—

AMY GOODMAN: It sort of echoed Marco Rubio here.

AL FOX: Well, that’s exactly right. And Marco Rubio, some of the things he said, I mean, they’re just outright lies. I mean, he is a creation of the media. Ted Cruz said his father was brutally beaten and tortured in a Cuban jail. The implication was that it was in a Castro jail, OK? Well, Ted Cruz’s father came to the United States in 1957, and I’m trying to—I think he was 17 or 18 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, he fought with Castro, not against him.

AL FOX: Well, how old was he when he fought? Twelve, 13, 14? These make great stories.

AMY GOODMAN: No, he’s talking about his father. And then Marco—

AL FOX: I understand. What I’m—and that’s the point I’m making. I’m trying to find out—if his father came here in 1957 as a 17-, 18-year-old student to attend the University of Texas, when was he brutally tortured in the Cuban jails? When was it? When he was 12 or 13 or 14? And was he fighting with Fidel against Batista when he was 12, 13? They make great stories. But the thing is the same way it is with Marco Rubio’s family, OK? Marco Rubio’s family didn’t flee any oppression in that country. They came to America for the reasons that the Haitians and the Salvadorans and Nicaraguans and Mexicans come: for a better life. And no country in the world has special immigration policy like we give to the Cubans—none.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Al Fox, I want to thank you so much for being with us. I’ll be speaking this Friday at noon in Sarasota, Friday night in St. Petersburg at the Palladium Theater, as we do our hundred-city Silenced Majority tour. On Saturday night, in <a href=”http://www.democracynow.org/events/2012/9/books_and_books_1036’?Coral Gables in Miami, and on Sunday in “http://www.democracynow.org/events/2012/9/thepplus_event_1037”>Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention will be held, and we’ll be in Charlotte all next week as we continue our two-hour daily “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency” coverage.

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